Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Love Is All There Is: My New Thoughts on Christmas

crystal-singing-bowCrystal Singing Bowl

In early December I spent a few days at a retreat center. We were treated to an after-dinner demonstration with a crystal singing bowl (similar to the Tibetan or Korean singing bowls made of bell-metal brass). One strikes the bowl with a covered mallet; as it passes around the bowl, a clear, beautiful singing sound fills the room.

Before we actually got to make the bowl sing, our hostess (a yoga teacher well versed in chakra work) asked us each to pray in whatever form we liked, thinking about past, present, and future.  At the session’s end she suggested that the past triggers regret; the future, anxiety.  All happiness is in the present moment.

I confess that, for me, Christmas has always been about both past and future—too seldom about the moment. Though the memories might be bittersweet (I always remember the fighting in the background), I have often longed for the traditional celebrating we did when I was a child.  In my adult years, Christmas has been about me worrying endlessly: Will I finish my projects, will my gifts please others, can I do all I want to do (no!), and will I end up on Christmas Day thinking, Is that all there is?

This Christmas, I have resolved to live in the moment.  And yet, living in the moment—especially this moment—can be as anxiety-producing as living in the future.  How can I help this feeling of despair over the state of our country and our world?  While violence hasn’t (yet) affected me personally, except in the wrenching of my gut, it’s all over the news, every day.  It leaves me in a continual state of low-level fear and guilt:  I can do nothing, and we are all victims-by-proxy of the suffering of so many. Even more fearsome is the hatred and anger the violence has provoked in my fellow citizens, fueled by distrust of the “other.” The brightest moment I saw online after the Paris massacre was a video of a man and his young son at the scene where all the flowers encased in plastic lay, marking people’s solidarity and sorrow.  

….

The sweet father leads his son to the loving idea that flowers can overwhelm guns.

I resolve to make love the center of my Christmas and holiday celebrations this year—not the material things we give and get, not the showy symbols, not all the worry.  Just love in the widest sense possible.  

Some plans to this end:

I invited people to come to an Open House on a December weekend.  I did not go crazy with the guest list: I invited every neighbor in my Block Watch Association, some of whom I don’t know, my entire senior aerobics class, and my book club, as well as the usual suspects: The point was inclusion, rather than yes to her, no to him.

Food and drink were plain and simple:  We ended up with two very different eggnogs, thanks to a neighborly contribution.  People want to be fed; I didn’t want to stress over the menu nor spend too much time on it.  Food is glue to bring us together.

I emphasized that children were welcome, and we had five kids. My grandbabies and I walked the block to give each of the children who couldn’t come a book. (This season is about pleasing children while creating an environment in which they are loved, not overwhelmed with toys.  Give them books and hugs.) The only real difference between this party and prior parties was my attitude: looking at the guests, not at my imperfect self; more fun and more loving.

I’ve begun calling people I never see, near and far, and telling them how I miss them, reestablishing connections.  Telling them I love them (unless doing so would make them uncomfortable). A 93-year-old friend of mine died suddenly, but I wanted to see her, and did so hours before she passed away. Being with her mattered more than did my other plans.  I swam in her love.

2235801090_0c380c379f_zZilker Metropolitan Park, Austin, TX (Photo by The Muuj via Flickr, Creative Commons License)

Christmas Eve is my special night.  On this night I believe in the star . . . in world peace and harmony . . . in hope, especially in hope.  At first I thought it would be awkward to invite my daughter’s in-laws, newly moved west from New Jersey and surely decrying the winter rains and perhaps feeling like strangers in a strange land. I know that Christmas is definitely not their thing, and was worried that they might be uncomfortable at my way of celebrating.  I’ve gotten over that silliness; I have invited them, and they are happy to come. I wish I had Muslim relatives as well.  This will be a new Christmas Eve, embracing all of us—all of our traditions—bringing us closer to one another in the process.  I can’t wait.  I will attend a Passover Seder at their place in the spring.  

The details don’t matter so much in my loosely planned new approach to Christmas.  My mantra—cornball, but sincere—is love.  It will ring in my ears like the ringing of the crystal bowl . . . like this quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness:

only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate:

only love can do that.

 

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  • Toni Myers December 28, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Any time you ARE in the neighborhood, Susanna, please come by!

    Reply
  • Susanna Gaertner December 28, 2015 at 2:33 am

    Would that I lived in our neighborhood, Toni, I would have loved to oome….

    Reply
  • Christa Barke December 24, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Toni, I watched you that Saturday afternoon when your house was full to overflowing – you looked serene and I admired you for it. So, you see, you have already made a great leap forward in living in the present.
    And thank you once again for inviting us all, it was great fun and excellent food and eggnog (especially with a little dram in it!) and what wonderful company.
    Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

    Reply
  • Georgeanne Brown December 24, 2015 at 11:33 am

    I believe in love … and I’m also a great fan of forgiveness.

    Thank you for putting it so beautifully, Toni.

    Merry Christmas. See you next week.

    Reply
  • Abba S December 24, 2015 at 2:36 am

    I agree. Simplicity and seeing the to the basics makes for elegant holidays, too. 🙂

    Reply
  • John December 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks Toni…I always appreciate your “thoughts” and you are right….no matter the perspective in life, it is love that matters. So have a great holiday and know that even on this far away part of the country, there is love towards YOU. Timeless….

    Reply
  • Toni Myers December 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Such lovely comments. I am happily drowning in love today amidst the Xmas madness. Thank you! out to get more flowers now!

    Reply
  • Nathan December 23, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    If everyone thought and acted a little bit more like Toni the world would be a significantly more functional and pleasant place to live in. Thank you for your inspiration and friendship! Thanks also for sharing that video of the father and son in Paris, let’s hope and more importantly plan for a future with more flowers and fewer guns.

    Reply
  • Gwen December 23, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you.

    Reply
  • Carola December 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Thoughtful and provoking. Hope. Love. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • Cecilia Ford December 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

    This is a wonderful column, demonstrating that “Christmas Spirit” can be an active choice rather than a passive condition. We don’t have to wait to catch the mood–we can pass it along to others.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  • Andrea December 23, 2015 at 8:50 am

    Beautiful thoughts and hopes for the new year. Martin Luther King was right- so was John Lennon- Love is all you need.

    Reply